In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort (J.R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit).
As a little girl, I was a passionate believer in the world of the Little People. My grandmother, always a supporter of my imagination, gave me The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies for my sixth birthday, and I spent hours poring over the illustrations: a troop of elves, parading through a misty evening forest, lighting their way with firefly lamps; an elderly fairy, sitting in a rocker outside her second-hand shop; leprechaun cobblers hard at work in an underground room of tree roots. I looked every day for some evidence that Little People had visited my prairie yard. When I didn’t find any, I took the plastic charms my dentist had awarded me for good behavior and hid them among the cabbage leaves in our garden. The next morning, I’d delight myself by pretending that some wee folk had left their belongings behind during the night.
So, last December, when I saw an ad for a session at the Muttart Conservatory that offered me the chance to make my very own Hobbit hole, my six-year-old self tugged at my sleeve and said, “Let’s go!” She and I counted down the days, double-checking the date on the confirmation form more often than we needed to.
When the big night arrives, we are greeted at the classroom door by a young man who bears more than a slight resemblance to Elijah Wood’s Frodo Baggins. He is Eric Gibson, head designer of the Muttart’s feature pavilion, and one half of Axis Mundi Artistry, an Edmonton horticultural business that specializes in creating and teaching others to design living plant arrangements.
Our fellow Hobbit hole adventurers soon join us: four young couples, a gaggle of twenty-something women in toques and geek chic glasses, a grey-haired gentleman. Although there appear to be only two children among our group – one accompanied by her grandmother, the other with his dad – the spirit of anticipation in the room tells me the little person who urged me to take this class has lots of company this evening.
Eric supplies everything we need for our journey: a hefty ceramic planter; pebbles, charcoal and soil; moss, bonsai trees, and babies’ tears; tiny chimneys, round doors, and supplies to make miniature slate patios, fences, benches, and brooms. The room comes alive with the perfume of damp earth and the buzz of delighted creation. We mound the house foundation soil in our planters, covering it with chicken wire, more soil, and emerald moss. Then, we begin designing the exterior landscapes, carving legs for the benches, wrapping wire around fence posts, and planting trees.
Like all good adventures, there are decisions to make and a few challenges. “Honey, how about if we make our patio on the roof, instead of in front of the house?” “Dad, I didn’t want the fence to look like that.” “My door doesn’t want to stand up straight.” Eric offers his assistance and we problem solve with each other. I discover I’ve left very little room for my hobbit to have an outdoor living space. The couple who are sharing my workbench tell me they’ve got the same situation. “Oh, well,” says the young man, his ‘Death before Dishonor’ T-shirt a seeming mismatch for his cheerfulness. “My house is rocking the square footage instead.”
Two hours later, we’re standing back to admire our own and each other’s creations. The Shire never experienced the minus 20 temperatures that are tyrannizing Edmonton, so Eric advises us to wrap our little houses in garbage bags, breathe warmth inside, and get them out to our cars as quickly as we can. I join the line of vehicles pulled up to the Muttart’s entry, dash inside, pop my car’s trunk, and slip the hobbit home inside.
Now, it sits by my place at our dining room table. On work mornings, as I try to stretch the time before swapping home for a windswept bus stop, I wonder if my resident hobbit is enjoying first breakfast at the same time I am. Maybe he will come out to have a pipe on the bench I built for him, or to tidy up the patio with the whisk broom I constructed. Maybe he has already left on an adventure into harsh and uncharted lands, misses the comfort of familiar places, and longs for spring. If that’s the case, I hope he has a good friend to remind him that both are as close as his memory, and may be nearer than he realizes.
Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. (The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King).